What’s the Outhouse all about?

Do you feel like an “old-school confessionally reformed high-church calvinist presbyterian” in a world where the “low-church-biblicist-revivalist-Evangelical-pietist-enthusiast-sentimentalist-experientialist- liberal-fundamentalist-transformationalist” household just keeps winning the day?

You are in the Outhouse my friend, and you are not alone.

First, what the Outhouse, in this contributor’s mind, is not. Contrary to the assumptions of wider religious blogdom, it is not a place for forms of evangelism or apologetics or admonishment or accusation or impunity or anything else one might find in t he proper confines of the Church. Neither is it a place to build community or nurture relationships or perpetuate the public square, etc. So if you take yourself so seriously that you either feel compelled to thump someone’s chest or whimper because you think yours was, the Outhouse may not be good for you. This is neither community nor the courts of the Church. While as prone as anyone to falling below the threshold of maintaining a sense of self-transcendence, the Outhouse desires to be painfully realistic about the fact that nothing is getting eternally solved or temporally created here. In other words, it doesn’t take itself very seriously.

I rather conceive of the Outhouse to be a place of rumination and reflection amongst nearly like-minded people where certain assumptions are in place. By like-minded I mean those who have been persuaded in confessional Reformed orthodoxy and take certain things for granted. The Outhouse is less interested in debating the finer points of confessional Reformed orthodoxy, like Calvinism (or popular contemporary controversies), and more interested in reflecting upon the broader implications of it in our day over against the implications of the larger Household (a concept explained below). Another forum might be better suitable for those who wish to join the cacophony of cracker-jack apologists, evangelists, theologians and social critics.

What’s in a name?

Names are important for various reasons. Our time seems smitten with divorcing form and content, which renders something as seemingly inconsequential as a name as, well, inconsequential. But the name Confessional Outhouse does point to some measure of meaning. This will start out sounding odd but bear with it. I was a sociology minor. One of my pet hack theories was that human society is made up of “households.” Everyone belongs to a series of households. These households can range from being a white male in North America (and its antitheses) to being left-handed to having a sugar-tooth. The point is that one’s world view and how one either behaves and/or is treated, is largely effected by whatever households one inhabits. Obviously, one may be a part of multitudes upon multitudes of households. Thus, I tend very heavily to think in terms of households. At the risk of merely reducing the main themes or topics of the Outhouse to those which are sociological over against theological, for good or ill I have nevertheless conceived of Outhouse in this way. Let’s just see what happens.

The name comes out of a discussion elsewhere in which the topic was what I hope will be a favorite theme of the Outhouse: the two-kingdom theory, or more specifically, the W(as in Westminster) Two Kingdom theory. The ramp up to the 2008 Presidential elections are in high gear, and the players are all predictably vying for what TIME magazine calls the God-vote. (I personally like to follow TIME’s regular God-o-meter to monitor just where the efforts have been in the last week.) The topic was Obama’s efforts at capturing some portion of the God-vote. Ever since I read DG Hart’s personally seminal The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, it has become impossible not to think of myself as being in the Confessional Outhouse when I hear certain figures and their pundit-corollaries speak. Hart’s basic thesis is that American Protestant religion is a two-party system, both of which fall under the rubric of Evangelicalism. In the one party is the more progressive or mainline tradition; in the other is what one might conceive of in the Religious Right quarters. Having been bred in one and married into the other and never feeling at home in either, this thesis explained why. Thomas Oden, in After Modernity What, famously observed that “Fundamentalists and Liberals have more in common than either would want to admit.” This, to me, is the same idea Hart is getting after, namely that the chief operating principle in most of the Household is that the Gospel has a direct bearing on and obvious implications for the temporal world. From there flows the application of that principle in its necessarily diverse and often times hostile, opposite interpretations and accounts for most of what one observes in the activities of the Evangelical Household. At the end of the day, indeed after experimentations of the 20th century and those leading up to it, American Protestant religion offers the believer only two parties within one Evangelical Household: conservative or progressive/liberal. (Maybe for the more savvy there exists a third option which is simply a weird hybrid of the two.) These are cultural, versus cultic, terms and the main operating categories for most of American Protestant expressions of religion and life. And it is usually put into the clearest relief in things like American political venues, in which Jesus is one candidate’s favorite philosopher or the head coach to another’s perception of society building. And, at least to this Reformed and Presbyterian Confessionalist, such banter makes it fairly clear that one is out to pasture.

This rather grousing observation about being in the Outhouse was actually preceded by a previous evening worship service in which, for whatever reasons, it hit me between the eyes once again that the Evangelicals had won the day. Maybe it was the heat of the unusually warm October day that had built up and made this cold-blooded mid-westerner a bit more chaffed than usual. Or maybe it was the dude up front, in his clogs and Havana shirt, casually talking and occasionally stopping so another dude could get up with his gee-tar and sing those theologically fraught words, “Doo-dee-a-ha-ha-yeah-yeah-yeah, yummm.” Whatever it was, it was once again clear I was in the Outhouse. It was a like a mid-life crisis, one of those moments akin to when a man realizes he will not even come close to realizing all the high aspirations he’s ever had. He has always known it and endured like a good doobie, taken his place amongst ordinary men, but something trips it off again and sends him reeling. In the same way, I have always known that Confessionalism has lost huge to the Evangelicals. Worse, it’s not as if there are clear lines designating the two camps. Those who would call themselves Confessionalists behave very often like the Evangelicals. Well, this could go on and on, but the point is simply that the Outhouse was conceived in grouchiness along these lines. I will do my best to comport myself, but I cannot promise that my grouchiness won’t bleed through. -Zrim


32 Responses to What’s the Outhouse all about?

  1. Bruce S. says:

    Yeah. Being new here, let me ask “Do we use toilet paper or shall we just rip up old Reader’s Digests?”

    FWIW, I have yet to see a real good definition of what a Biblicist is. In fact, I would venture to say that the term itself is completely foreign to those who are Biblicists.

  2. RubeRad says:

    In fact, I would venture to say that the term itself is completely foreign to those who are Biblicists.

    Kind of like Arminians deny the label Arminian?

  3. Rick says:


    BYOTP at all times

  4. Bruce S. says:

    Not exactly. Generally speaking, the Reformed find biblicism to be a problem, but elsewhere, biblicism is what you strive for. I suspect that most Arminians embrace that label wholeheartedly. Those that don’t, shun it simply because they shun labels in general.

    This thread needs to be flushed (hard to do in an outhouse) because it doesn’t really belong here. Somebody, quick, come up with a definition of biblicism (as well as all the others – low-church, pietism etc) in full fledged articles. Each one should get its own treatment separately.

  5. Zrim says:

    Biblicism isn’t a definition, man, it’s an attitude, a lifestyle. Quit trying to put your labels on me.

    Does it work to say I know one when I see one? See, that’s how you’re supposed to do intuition.


  6. Rick says:

    Man Bruce, I just cleaned up the About page.

    But it’s all good.

  7. Bruce S. says:

    How am I supposed to finish off this deprogramming I am pilgrimaging with? I may have plenty of Biblicism still coursing through my own veins and not even realize it.

    It does, however, work to say “I know one when I see one” if it’s only the choir that will be reading here. (I suspect it won’t be).

  8. RubeRad says:

    Sounds like somebody needs to post a post about “What exactly is Biblicism anyways?” If somebody would finalize on a desired account name/ID setup so I could add someone as an Editor, then someone could do that…

  9. ef says:

    It seems to me that Biblicism is a person who thinks that he can approach Scripture without a set of presuppositions.

    Take my cousin for instance. Her father is a minister in the little hyper dispensational freak show I was raised in (according to the standards of the reformation, a cult), and she swore up and down that she had simply come to her conclusions “from the Bible alone”. Never mind the fact that there had been 2000 years worth of Church history in which no one else had come to those conclusions, and that the preaching and teaching she was recieving, the dogmatic system into which she was being catechized, were all informed by the point of view she’d adopted as her own. She was blind to it.

    Of course it wasn’t merely her ignorance of her own system that made her a biblicist. It was her condescending attitudes toward confessionalism and our my ascent to the Westminster Standards that seal the deal in my mind. Not only was she unable to recognize her own preconcieved notions about Scripture before she approached it so as to be able to criticize herself, but she was willing to villify someone who was intellectually honest enough to admit that they subscribed to such a system. Of course, that is ok cuz there was no written evidence (ie: Standards, Confessions of Faith, Forms, Catechisms, etc) that such a system existed at all in the first place, so perhaps we can cut her ignorant fundamentalist/individidualist a little slack? Nah. The best is yet to come.

    She (like all good biblicists) assumed that our ascent to the thoughts and teachings of another group of people was evil. Our alliegence, it was suggested, was to our documents rather than to the Scriptures. She condemned the idea on its face as something antithetical to the Reformation’s promise to continue to reform, “semper reformanda”.

    Of course, the point that is nearly always forgotten in the “semper reformanda” crowd is that nearly all of the reformers (or their predecessors) set about the business of forming doctrinal standards and catechisms. It was assumed that, without such objective standards of correct doctrine individuals would run off in a corner with their Bibles and dream up some heresies like the Anabaptists (and dispensationalists later on) did.

    And that gets at the final chink in the armor of the biblicist. “Semper reformanda” meant ‘continually reforming unto greater conformity with the Word of God,’ not just “reforming cuz those Papists are too damned formal’ and ‘traditions suck’. Standards force us to police the bounds of ecclesiastical uniformity in an attempt to keep all within the corral of Biblical Christianity. Without objective and formal statements around which we may congregate, the church (as exemplified in the US) will turn into a bunch of automotons deciding how to interpret this passage and that, and creating their own little movements (as opposed to churches, WHICH HAVE STANDARDS).

    This is the ultimate irony of the biblicist. While he despises Standards/Forms, it is those dreaded documents that are the greatest hope for the well intentioned hope he has for the Church; that she would remain faithful to the Word of God and to Christ her Savior.

    Of course, the other case study in biblicism is the one where the person claims to subscribe to the Standards. However, when questions arise as to his conformity with those Standards, the person doing the questioning is said to be holding the Standards over Scripture. I love that one; I’ve had personal, and rather hurtful experience there. All I can say is that that is what you get when you call it “good faith subscription” (PCA).

  10. RubeRad says:

    my ascent to the Westminster Standards

    Freudian slip there? I think you meant “assent”…

  11. Zrim says:

    Eric said, “Semper reformanda” meant ‘continually reforming unto greater conformity with the Word of God.” I part with you here, Eric. Ironically enough, this is the progressive-modernist intrepretation (read: Biblicist). As a Reformed confessionalist, I say our forms are already in great conformity to the Word of God. They are imperfect and fallible, no question. But the spirit of “reformed and always reforming” puts emphasis on the lformer part of that phrase, not the lag er. It means, “reformed is the best expression of the Word of God (reformed), now how well does this generation conform to that (always reforming)?”

    Rick, I want to link to an article that Mathison wrote recently in MR about all this, his solo scriptura piece. I have access to all their back issues and would like to see about just letting Mathison put it to rest for Bruce.


    ***updated by Rick*** link to Mathison provided.

  12. Zrim says:

    it defaults to ‘logout’ so i figure i am already logged in.

  13. Zrim says:

    Rube said, “Kind of like Arminians deny the label Arminian?”

    I think you are thinking of the Biblicist Arminians, like Albino Hayford. Good, confessional Arminians don’t deny their Arminianism, like Roger Olson.

    Your mistake is quite innocent, though. Most Arminians one runs into in our contexts are also Biblicists; some are not. Not all Arminians are Biblicists, but all Biblicists tend to be Arminian (certainly not Calvinist).

    Albino Hayford is a good Biblicist, but a terrible soteriologist. Good Arminians and Calvinists look cross-eyed at his “Calminianism” as if he thinks he has just discovered a whole number between 4 and 5. You can work with a good (confessional)Arminian, you can’t so much with a Biblicististic one.


  14. Rick says:

    HERE is the article Zrim wanted to share with all.

  15. gospelmuse says:

    Ahhhh!!! At last, a place where a former porta-john technician feels a little at home; where the big-show is known as recycled c**p!

  16. Zrim says:

    Great to have you, Matt!

  17. gospelmuse says:

    Thanks, Z!

    Peace to all in the Outhouse!

  18. I’m always up for helpling a brother out, but trying to bring everybody in here back to Biblical Christianity would be as futile as playing pick-up-sticks with my butt cheeks. So I will accept Reuben’s admonitions and just enjoy the humor.

  19. RubeRad says:

    Hey, here in the Outhouse we do a lot of things with our butt cheeks…

  20. Zrim says:

    “…but trying to bring everybody in here back to Biblical Christianity would be…futile.”

    That’s right. Read closer and you will see that this lame project has nothing at all to do with such a monumental task. It’s just a place to ruminate. Don’t foist the inane motivations of 98.7% of blogdom onto the OH.

  21. Rick says:

    Don’t feed the Albino

  22. efwake says:


    Define your terms my friend. What is Biblical? For someone who admonished me against being dogmatic, you sure are being… well… dogmatic.

    If you care to have a serious theological discussion, great. But according to the rules of debate a gratuitous assertion may be answered with an equally gratuitous assertion.

    My Christianity is more biblical then yours is. Nana-nana-boo-boo.

  23. Echo_ohcE says:


    Have you noticed that you consistently provoke the same kind of reaction among reformed people?


  24. I can’t help it…I love you guys. As much as it galls you, you’re stuck with the rest of the Body of Christ, not just your little cloister of reformed theologians. I will try to just have fun here in the outhouse and not hog the tp.

  25. efwake says:

    Wait a second. It doesn’t gall me that you like me; I enjoy your sense of humor and will interact on a jocular level until the cows come home. I also don’t consider you outside the Body of Christ and quite frankly am shocked at your apparent lack of serious self-examination in that regard.

    You see, you just suggested to us that we are beyond help with regard to Biblical Christianity. I’ve never, and would never, make that assertion against you. To me that comment betrays the fact that it is you who does not accept the reformed into the Body of Christ, not vise-versa.

    Read my entry on the Evangelical anti-system and you may recognize that I have no problem with debating the merits and demerits of a bad system. My concern with you and those like you is that you seem to be oblivious to the fact that you have a system.

    The only way we can truly agree to disagree is if you’re willing to recognize that a person can have a conversation informed by a desire not to “convert” but simply to “understand.” By framing the debate as one between “biblical and non-biblical” rather than “Evangelical vs. Reformed” or “my version of biblical vs. yours” you’re the one who seems to be denying the fact that we’re stuck with one another.

    You’re suggesting therein that I’m outside and that you’re inside.

  26. Echo_ohcE says:


    Albino is not interested in understanding or making arguments.


  27. Echo_ohcE says:


    You must add it to the Stack…

  28. John says:

    Its dangerous to categorize with such a broad brush and lump positions into categories. Isn’t this what the Corinthians were doing? In practical experience what effect does this have on an individual believer who may not dive to the depths theological parle’?

    Is Christ divided? I can appreciate the frustration with sloppy theology and easy believisms. On the other hand is it right to try to give certainty to paradoxes that the scriptures seem perfectly content to leave as such?

    I have come out of a background of baptistic fundamentalism. Separation was a practice that encouraged arguments over issues not so absolutely defined in scripture.

    When I use the term biblicist I use it to avoid attempting to put my faith in a theological system or to rely on one to defend my faith. I suppose my life experience has made me suspicious and at least cautious of trying to argue.

  29. Zrim says:


    I think you make some good points. What’s the problem? Maybe this’ll help:


  30. Luke Walkup says:

    Greetings from West Virginia. I’m enjoying your blog. A fellow West Virginian by the name of Billy Edd Wheeler wrote a song called, “Ode To The Little Brown Shack Out Back.” I think y’all might get a kick out of the song. Here is a link to the song on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iUkoje5Q3VQ

  31. RubeRad says:

    Nice! Who knew we had an anthem? Thx for droppin by and coppin a squat!

  32. Luke Walkup says:

    Haha! My pleasure I assure you.

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